Ten best films: Biopics and classroom acts score high
The Monitor's critic sorts through what he sat through this year.
More than 600 movies opened in theaters in 2008, of which your faithful critic saw about 300. Thank you very much. Among those I did not see: "The Hottie & the Nottie," "Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie," and "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead." Believe me, I saw plenty just as bad.Skip to next paragraph
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As usual, patterns prevailed. The early part of the year was a dumping ground for third-rate rejects. Summertime was Superhero Central. The fall/winter season remains ground zero for Oscar bait.
Although Iraq-themed dramas and documentaries – among them "Stop-Loss" and "Standard Operating Procedure" – continued their slog through the mostly unattended multiplexes, it was the Holocaust that, more than any other historical catastrophe, got the prestige-picture treatment this year from Hollywood. Within the space of three months we've had "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," "Adam Resurrected," "The Reader," and, coming soon nationwide, "Good," "Valkyrie," and "Defiance." Why the pileup? Maybe filmmakers and audiences find it easier to confront the moral issues of wartime guilt and survival in a context that is not contemporaneous.
There were also more biopics than usual, many of them focusing on politicians and historical figures, and most of them hagiographic. "Milk," despite dazzling work from Sean Penn and Josh Brolin, was mostly agitprop posturing. Even more so was Steven Soderbergh's four-hour-and-20-minute "Che," a movie that came equipped with its own halo. "Frost/Nixon," thanks to Frank Langella's practiced hamminess, transformed Tricky Dick into Not-Such-A-Bad-Guy Dick. In Oliver Stone's "W." – heavy on the Oedipus complex – Josh Brolin's Dubya was jockish and heartfelt – a wronged son vainly trying to impress his impossibly demanding dad.
Even Russia got into the revisionist biopic spirit: The epic "Mongol" gave us a Genghis Khan, humane and principled, that most of us never read about in the history books. Despite in actual fact having a score of wives, the movie's Khan opts for a single true love. What a guy. Next up: "Sex and the City and the Steppes."
Most of the big movie franchises were ill-served. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was about as exciting as a cash register. In the thuggish, sluggish "Quantum of Solace," Mr. Bond seems to have been taken over, pod-person-style, by Mr. Bourne. And don't even ask me about "Star Wars: The Clone Wars."